explore & enjoy.

#1 me, watching an actor work.
photo: Geoffrey Wade

#2 Matisse's "workroom" The Red Studio, where there are no hands on the clock & most everything is unreal but the art.

#3 A letter from Tennessee Williams a few weeks after he cast me in his Vieux Carre at the theater bearing his name in Key West. He died about one week before we started rehearsals.
photo: my iphone

#4 The cast of La Ronde, performed by my students in Antaeus' A2 company, directed by Young Ji.
photo: Geoffrey Wade

#5 The artist's studio from my production of Cousin Bette by Jeffery Hatcher, set design by Tom Buderwitz.
photo: Michele K. Short

#6 Click on the image to visit my WORKROOM board on Pinterest. &/or create one of your own!

are credited at the end of each blog post.

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Mastery & Optimism  9/18/12

           More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism.
It's the feeling at the start of a project when 
I believe that
my whole career has been preparation for this moment, 
and I am saying, 
'Okay, let's begin. Now I am ready.' 


What makes for "mastery" -- & the manifestation of great work? There is nothing more interesting to me than this. What are the habits / tools / processes that spark it / drive it / nurture it? What is it when you see it & what is it when you feel it? 

Optimism = mastery, says Ms. Tharp. Really? How easy is it to wake up with that every day? Especially in the actor's fiercely competitive arena. It's every day the bloody Olympics of acting! Optimism can seem wildly unrealistic.

But, okay, what happens if we think about cultivating optimism as a tool to access, to pick up at will to achieve our best work? Like the other things we learned in acting school. A skill to use with intention, like script analysis or sense memory or a vocal warm-up. Could it work that way? Optimism = innate AND acquired?

In 1997 I wrote a book called TOWARD MASTERY, based on the work of Nikos Psacharopoulos. As a teacher & director, Nikos --  relentlessly! -- demanded the kind of acting you did not dare imagine you could achieve. He wrapped his demand for greatness in the equally impossible belief that you could & would get there. If not today, than tomorrow, if not tomorrow than the next day, but without a doubt, eventually, you would make good on your potential. He was fearsomely -- even blindly -- optimistic for you.

The famous 10,000 hours of practice is Malcom Gladwell's recipe for mastery in any field (We'll discuss this more as we go, under the heading of how to work hard.) 10,000 hours is not what it takes to be an expert. This is what it takes to be freakishly good. Awesome. World class. Hands down, the first requirement for mastery.

We, most of us, start out our journey in acting with enormous optimism. Optimism probably works as the springboard for getting us to those first 10,000 hours. & early on, optimism needs no bidding, it is unintentionally present. 

Consider: asking the extreme of yourself + unshakeable faith = the path to great acting.

An actor comes to my studio for private coaching. She is entrusting me with her most precious gift, her work. I have read her material, looked at the notes from our last session. She is vibrant & smart & her potential is formidable. And she is nervous & not sure she can pull it off.

I am about to enter the studio, my "workroom." I can already feel the energy, the importance, the joy & the anxiety of this moment for her. I pause at the door. Stop. Breathe. Remind myself that the goal is nothing less than GREAT WORK. Not good work, not serviceable work, not acceptable work. great work. Before I step in the room, I set an intention to draw on my own resource of optimism. So as to enable hers. So as to call out to her work to take a leap. 

Tharp again:

"of course, you're never one hundred percent ready, but that's a part of mastery, too: it masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe you are capable of anything."

You've entered The Workroom. Come here frequently for inspiration, fuel, ideas, breath, OPTIMISM. And hold on, we're going for it. The "it" of course meaning great work. 

Question: What is it for you? What is great work when you see it, & what is it when you feel it?

POST IMAGE: "Choreographer Twyla Tharp Observing Rehearsal of American Ballet Theater Dancers" by Gjon Mili. Available for purchase at Art.com.

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Reader Comments (4)

I know great work when I, myself, feel open and vulnerable, as if it is my own soul in the "spotlight..." It's the butterflies and the recognition, the surprise at that recognition and the mutual "letting in" or "letting go" that shows me great work...what I just read made me nervous and brought the tears of that recognition, of one artist recognizing another's greatness, the fear and the thrill of that moment of connection. Well done, Jeanie.

September 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterangela g.

LOVE the Twyla Tharp quote!
And your workroom seems cozy, Jeanie...

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStacye Leanza

How cool that my first posts are from my Goddaughter & my cousin. Thanks, guys for participating with me. Angela, love that you write about "recognition.' My favorite Tennessee Williams line: "I don't ask for your pity but for your understanding. Not even that, no. Just for the recognition of me in you, and the enemy, time, in us all." Recognition is what hooks me, as an actor or audience member...

September 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterJeanie Hackett

I completely agree with David Brooks,and will go a bit farther;art as a competitive sport can't exist if you want to move an audience-because the warrior can't allow compassion to keep him from his fight. Ask any soldier after basic training if he can feel his enemies' humanity? Ask any returning soldier from a military theatre of war if his own humanity hasn't taken a hit? Art uses the human to rise to it's heights;nothing else will do that. The rest is just mechanics and technique.

November 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLawrence Pressman

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